Translated by James Riordan
Amid the thyme and the dew of Jean de la Fontain, Hare heard the hunt as he climbed up the path of soft clay. He was afraid of his shadow. The heather receded behind him. Blue steeples rose up from dale to dale as hare descended and mounted again. His bounds bent the grass where the dewdrops hung. He became brother to the skylarks in their fast flight. Hare travelled the country roads, hesitating at a signpost before following the pale resonant sun to the crossroads, where he became lost in the dark moss.
Having his confused eyes set on the side of his head, Hare nearly collided with the twelfth milestone between Castétis and Balansun. Abruptly he stopped. His cleft lip trembled imperceptibly, exposing his incisors. Then, slackening his straw colored legs, like traveling boots with their worn and broken nails, Hare leapt over the hedge, a ball with ears upon its back.
And again, for a considerable amount of time he climbed while the sorry hounds lost his tracks. And then again he descended down towards the road to Sauvejunte where he saw a horse and cart nearing. In the distance the road was clouded with dust, as when Sister Anne was asked, “My sister do you not see anything coming?”* How splendid this pale dryness, filled with the bitter fragrance of mint.
And so the horse arrived before Hare. It was a miserable nag, dragging behind it a tank with benches, unable to move but more than a staggered sort of gallop. Each dash forward startling its disjointed carcass, shaking its collar, and scattering its earth coloured mane, glistening and green like the beard of an old mariner. The animal mournfully raised its shoes, as though they had been replaced by paving stones, its hooves swollen like tumours
Hare was frightened by this large animate machine which moved so noisily. He leapt up, so continuing
*From Charles Perrault’s Blue Beard
his flight through the meadows, his nose toward the
Pyrenees, his tail toward the moors, his right eye toward the rising sun, his left eye toward Mesplède.
Eventually he crouched down in the thatch, not far from a quail sleeping in the manner of a hen, her stomach buried in the dust, exhausted by the heat, sweating her fat through her feathers.
The morning gleamed toward the south. The blue sky fading under the heat became the grey colour of a pearl. A buzzard soared, its flight seemingly effortless, tracing larger and larger circles as it ascended. At a distance of a few hundred meters lay the shimmering peacock-blue surface of a river, lazily carrying the mirage like reflections of the alder whose cruel leaves exuded a bitter perfume. The intense blackness of these reflections cut sharply the light pale colour of the water. Close to a damn fish slipped past in bands. It was as if the beating of the angelus’ wings could be heard resonating outward from the torrid whiteness of a bell tower. Hare’s midday nap began.
Hare remained in the thatches until the evening, motionless, only troubled occasionally by a cloud of mosquitoes trembling like a road in the sun.Then at twilight he advanced: two bounds forward, two more to the left and then to the right.
The night had begun. Hare advanced in the direction of the river, where on the spindles of the reeds hung the moonlight, a weave of silver mist.
Hare sat down amidst the flowering grasses, joyful that at this hour all sounds were harmonious. One could hardly distinguish the calls of the quail from those of the springs.
Had all men died?He saw but one, far in the distance, making movements about the water, silently withdrawing his net dripping and radiant.But only the heart of the waters seemed troubled. Hare remained calm.
And there amongst the angelicas something emerged, little by little, like a ball. It was Hare’s beloved who approached. And he ran towards her. Meeting deep in the blue undergrowth, their small noses touched, and for a brief moment they kissed amidst the wild sorrels. They played. Then slowly, side by side, guided by their hunger, they set out for a small farm lying low in the darkness. In the poor garden into which they entered they found crisp cabbages and pungent thyme. The nearby stable seemed to breathe, the snorting nose of the pig protruding from under the door of its sty.
This is how the night passed, in eating and in love.Little by little the darkness was stirred up by the first light of day. Spots appeared in the distance. Everything began to quiver. An absurd cock rent the silence from his perch upon the roof of the henhouse. He crowed tremendously, applauding himself with the stubbed ends of his wings.
Hare and his mate separated as they passed through the threshold of the hedges with their thorns and roses. A crystal village, as it were, emerged from the fog, while in the field dogs balancing their tails stiff like cables busied themselves trying to disentangle the artful curves traced through the mint and blades of grass by the charming couple.
Hare took shelter in a marl pit under the arched mulberry trees. Here he sat, his eyes open until evening. He held his position like a king under this lancet arch of branches, which the heavy showers had adorned with blue seeds of sunlight.There he slept. But his anxious dreams were not those typical of the calm sleep of a sultry summer day. His was not the rest of the lizard who is hardly stirred by his dreams of ancient walls, nor the confident nap of the badger in the darkness of his cool burrow.
To Hare, the slightest noise spoke of the danger of things, whether they move, fall or strike. The unusual movement of a shadow could signify the approach of an enemy. Hare knew that he could only be happy in a shelter that was exactly the same at this moment as it had been the moment before.Out of this came his love of order and stillness.
What stirs the leaf of the sweetbrier in the calm, heavy silence of such a day? When the shadows of the coppice move so slowly that they seem to stop the passage of the hours, what might make them suddenly shake? Not far from Hare in his retreat, a crowd of men gathered ears of corn, their kernels woven in the sunlight. From where did these men come? Hare’s eyelids were without lashes and could not adapt to the throbbing of the dazzling midday light. This was reason enough for him to fear those who laboured un-blinded by its radiant brilliance.
Nothing on the outside appealed to Hare that might lure him away before he felt it was his time, for his wisdom was in harmony with the order of things. To Hare, life was a work of music, each discordant note warning him to be cautious. He did not confuse the pack of hounds howling with the distant sound of bells, nor the gesticulation of a man with that of a restless tree. He did not confuse the detonation of a rifle with a clap of thunder, or the latter with the rumbling of carts. Nor the whistle of the sparrowhawk with that of the steaming threshing machine. There was an entire language whose words Hare knew to be his enemies.
Who could say from where Hare obtained this prudence and this wisdom? No one can explain these things, or how they might have been transmitted to him. Their origins are lost in the darkness of time, where all stories are mixed and confused.
Did he come forth from Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat as the flood subsided, that same hour when the dove brought forth the olive branch, ever after retaining the sound of the great waters in its cooing? Had he been created such as he was, with his short tail, his thatched hair, his cleft upper lip, his floppy ears, and his trodden-down heels? Had God the Eternal spontaneously thrown him down beneath the sweet bay trees of Eden?
Perhaps, while curled up beneath the rosebushes Hare had seen Eve, like a mare rearing up on her graceful brown legs, as she wandered amongst the gladiolus, her tender golden breasts before the mystic pomegranates. Or was he at first an incandescent mist? Had he already lived in the core of the porphyries? Had he incombustibly emerged from a stew of lava, to inhabit a cell of granite and of alga, each in turn, before he dared show his nose? Did he owe the colour of his eyes to these jets of bitumen? His hair to the argillaceous silt? His soft ears to the kelp? The life in his blood to this liquid fire?
… His origins mattered very little to him at this moment, as he lay resting peacefully in the marl pit. It was a stormy August, the afternoon ripening as it neared its end. The sky was the murky blue colour of a plum, swollen here and there, ready to burst out over the field.
Soon the rain began to patter upon the blackberry bushes, the beating of its long drumsticks growing faster and faster. But Hare was not afraid, for the rain fell in accordance to a rhythm familiar to him. Moreover, the rain could not reach him, being not yet able to penetrate the vault of vegetation about him. A single drop struck beneath the marl pit, splashing and falling each time in the same spot.
Hare’s heart was untroubled by this concert, for he was familiar with its song, with stanzas formed by the teardrops of torrential rainfall. And he knew that no dog, nor man, nor fox, nor hawk played any part in it. The sky was like a harp, upon which the silver strings of rain were tightened from top to bottom. On the ground each and every thing in turn resounded in a particular way, each taking up its own melody. Under the green fingers of the leaves the crystal strings sounded faint and hollow. It was as if it were the voice at the heart of the mist.
Under the rain’s touch the clay sobbed like a teenager worried by the blowing of the south wind.Where the clay was faded and dry there could be heard the sound of drinking and the panting of burning lips yielding to the fullness of the storm.
The night that followed the storm was serene. The rainfall had all but completely evaporated, no longer present on the field where Hare and his mate had met, except in the form of balls of clumped-up mist, like the cotton plants of paradise, their pods bursting beneath the flooding moonlight. On the banks of the river stood the thickets, heavy with rain like pilgrims bent under the weight of their rucksacks and goatskin bottles. Peace reigned. An angel supported her head in her hands. The bent blades of grass prayed for the dawn, shivered and shook, awaiting daybreak.
Then Hare, sitting in the middle of the meadow, witnessed the approach of a man, and he wasn’t the least bit afraid of him. For the first time in ages, since men first began setting snares and traps and using bows, the instinct of flight had abandoned Hare’s soul.
The man who approached was dressed in the fashion of a tree trunk in winter, covered with a frock of mosses. He wore a cowl upon his head and sandals upon his feet. He did not carry a stick, his hands linked within the sleeves of his robe, which was girded by a cord. His bony face was paler than the moon before him. One could make out his nose, which was like that of an eagle, his eyes, deep set like the donkey’s, and his black beard covered in tufts of white, like the wool of the lamb upon the undergrowth.
Two doves accompanied him. They glided from branch to branch into the clemency of the night. One might have described their wings as the petals of a naked flower, lovingly pursuing one another, striving to once again meet and open out to form its corolla.
Three poor dogs wearing spiked collars and wagging their tails came before the man and an old wolf followed behind, licking the hem of his garment. A ewe and her lamb, bleating, uncertain and charmed, pressed forward through the crocuses and moss, treading upon their greenery and flowers.While three sparrowhawks began to play with the doves, a timid night bird whistled with joy amid the fruit of the oak trees. Then, employing its wings, it overtook the hawks and the doves, the lamb and the ewe, the dogs, the wolf, and the man.
And the man approached Hare and said unto him:
“I am Francis. I love you and I greet you, oh my brother. I greet you in the name of the sky which mirrors the water and the stones. I greet you in the name of the wild sorrels and the seeds and bark on which you feed. Join these innocents that accompany me, tethered to my footsteps with the faith of the ivy which mounts the tree, never thinking that soon perhaps a logger will come. Oh Hare, I bring faith to share, one with the other, the faith which is life itself, all that which we do not know, but in which we believe. Oh genial and well-meaning hare, oh gentle traveller, will you follow our faith?”
And while Francis spoke the animals remained quite silent, perched or laying flat on their stomachs, having total faith in these words which they did not understand.
Hare alone, with his eyes wide open, seemed to be worried by the sound of this voice. There he stood, with one ear forward and the other ear back, as if uncertain whether to take flight or remain.
Upon seeing this, Francis gathered a handful of grass from the field and held it out to Hare. And so Hare followed.
As of that night they all walked together.
No one could harm them, for they were protected by their faith. In the hours in which the young elm trees soften, at the place in the village where people dance to the sound of the bagpipe and girls laugh and raise their glasses before the innkeepers, from their shaded tables in the open air, a circle would form around them. But the young people with their bows and harquebus would not dream of killing Hare, for his tranquil walk astonished them so much that they would deem it barbarous to harm such a poor animal, having so trustingly placed itself at their feet, its faith before them. And they took Francis for a skilled animal tamer, occasionally opening their barns to him for the night, and giving him alms, which he used to buy each of the animals that food which they liked best.
Furthermore, they easily found enough to live on, for it had been a generous autumn. The granaries bowed under the weight of the harvest. They were left to the fields to gather corn and took their share of the vintage and the songs which were sung, rising to the setting sun. Blonde girls pressed grapes against their bright breasts, their raised elbows glowing.Above the blue shadows of the chestnut groves the slow shooting stars ran free. The velvet of the heather was growing thicker. Deep among the avenues one could hear the sighing of dresses.
They contemplated the sea suspended in the space before them, and the sloping sails, and the white sands dappled with the shadows of the tamarisks, the cane apple bushes and the pines. They travelled through laughing meadows and past brooks, the results of torrents born from pure snow still sparkling with memories of antimony and frost.
When the horn of the hunt sounded Hare remained fearless among his companions who watched over him, just as he watched over them. On one day a pack of dogs had approached him, but had fled upon sighting the wolf. At another time a tomcat had stalked the doves, taking flight at the sight of the three dogs with their spiked collars. And a ferret that lay in wait for the ewe’s lamb had to seek a hiding place upon sighting the birds of prey. Hare had even frightened off the swallows that had so fiercely baited the owl.
Hare became especially attached to one of the three dogs with spiked collars. She was a spaniel, small, soft, and squat, with a short tail, hanging ears, and arched legs. She was polite and proper, had been born in a pigpen in the company of a sow, and had been owned by a cobbler who went hunting on Sundays. When her master died no one adopted her. So she took to the fields, where she met Francis.
Hare walked beside her, and when they slept the spaniel rested her muzzle upon Hare, which made him drowsy. They all napped, filled with dreams beneath the pale midday light.
This was when Francis gave himself up to the paradise from which he had descended. It looked to him as though he were entering through a large gate, opening upon a main street where stood the houses of the Elect. Tears of joy were brought to his eyes at the sight of these low workshops, each similar in their brilliant hues. From within their stalls one might catch the gleam of a planer, a hammer, or file. For when God had asked those who had come to him what reward they desired for their earthly works, they had requested to continue with that work which had helped them gain entrance into Heaven, their arcane crafts thus enshrouded within a sort of unknown mystery.These artisans appeared within their doorways, their tables set for their evening meals.One heard laughter coming from the celestial wells. And in those angelic places which resembled fishing boats, angels reclined in the joy of twilight.
As for the animals, they saw in their dreams neither earth nor paradise as we see or know them. They dreamt of endless expanses, confusing to their senses, as if their insides were in a haze. To Hare the barking of the dogs became one with the sun’s heat, with the feeling of damp legs, the dizziness of escape, fear, the scent of the clay, the flash of the brook, the waving of the wild carrots, the cracking of the corn, the moonlight, even the nervous emotions brought on by the sight of his mate emerging from amid the fragrant meadowsweets.
And they all saw their lives reflected in the lids of their closed eyes.All, that is, except for the doves, who protected their small, restless, and mobile heads within the shade of their wings. Here they sought their paradise.
When winter came Francis called to his friends:
“I worry for you, though you are blessed, you who belong to God. The call of the geese on their migration speaks of the approaching famine. It is not in Heaven’s designs to make the earth merciful. Praise be to the hidden intentions of our Lord!”
And indeed, around them the countryside appeared stark. In the sky the yellow light dripped from the clouds, which were themselves swollen with snow like goatskin bottles. All the fruit of the hedges and of the orchards had died. Their seeds had long ago abandoned their pods and entered the bosom of the earth.
“Praise be the hidden intentions of the Lord,” said Francis. “It is perhaps his wish that you leave me in search of food. I could not follow you all, for each of you would be carried by your instincts to different lands. For you are alive and you have need of food, while I have risen from the dead. Here by the grace of God, I am protected from the needs of the body. A spirit, I arrived here and was permitted to guide you thus far. But I feel that I can no longer take care of you, as whatever knowledge I had weakens. So if you want to leave me, untie your tongues and speak.”
It was the wolf who spoke first.
He raised his face toward Francis. His worn tail was swept by the wind. He coughed. Misery had long been his garb. His pitiful fur gave him the air of a dispossessed king. He hesitated, gazing upon each of his companions in turn. And as his jaws parted, one could measure past hardships along the length of his teeth. His expression was wild. It could not be told if he was going to bite or lick his master. His voice finally dispatched from within his throat, hoarse like new snow.
“Oh honey without bees! Oh poor! Oh Son of God! How could I leave you? My existence was low before you filled it with joy. I felt obliged to lay in wait nightly, listening for the breath of the dogs, the shepherds and their fires, awaiting the right moment to bury my fangs into the throats of the sleeping lambs. You taught me, Oh Blessed, the sweetness of the orchards. And even now, as my belly grows hollow with its hunger for meat, I feed on your love for me.For sometime I have found pleasure in this hunger, as my muzzle rests on your sandal. I suffer this so that I may follow you and would die readily for your love.”
And the doves cooed.
Setting down among the branches of a barren tree, the two doves perched, shivering and flightless. They did not know what to say. And then, as if unable to agree from one moment to the next, they once again filled the attentive forest with the graceful weeping of their white caresses. Their trembling was like that of a young girl, tears and arms mingled. When they spoke, it was as one, a single voice:
“Oh Francis, you are more charming than the shimmer of a glow worm in the mosses. You are more pleasant than the brook which sings to us as we hang our tepid nest in the fragrant shade of the poplars. What concern, be it hoarfrost or food shortage, might banish us from your side and drive us toward more fertile lands? For the sake of your love we shall give up those things we love. And if we must die of the cold, we shall do so, oh master, pressed one against the other.”
And one of the dogs with spiked collars advanced. It was Hare’s friend the spaniel. Her teeth chattered, for like the wolf she already suffered bitterly from her hunger. Her ears were wrinkled, even while raised. She held her motley tail high and motionless like a cotton pod. Her eyes were the colour of yellow raspberries, fixed on Francis with the fire of an absolute faith. Her two companions prepared to listen to her, confidently lowering their heads as a sign of their kindness and of their ignorance. They were shepherd’s dogs and had never heard anything but the sobbing of the cowbell, the bleating of the flock and the crack of lightning upon the summits. Proud and happy, they waited for the little spaniel to testify.
She took a step forward. Not a sound left her throat. She licked Francis’ hand and lay down at his feet.
And the ewe bleated.
Her bleating was so saddening that one might have thought that at the mere thought of leaving Francis she was already exhaling her soul towards death. Then, as she stood in silence, there came the sudden child like cry of her lamb, seized by some unknown melancholy.
And the ewe spoke:
“Neither the serenity of the alfalfas tarnished by the mists of dawn, the liquorice of the mountains beaded with the silver sweat of the fog, nor the litter of straw within a smoke-filled hut, is in any way comparable to the pastures of your heart. We would prefer to be carried off to the slaughterhouse to leaving you, our legs bound, our flanks and cheeks on the boards of the carts. Oh Francis, losing you would be death, for we love you.”
And as the ewe spoke, the owl and the hawks perched one next to the other remained motionless. Their eyes were filled with anguish, but they held their wings tightly to their sides. They would not fly away.
The last to speak was Hare.
Dressed in his matted and earth coloured fur, he looked like a god of the fields. In the midst of such nature, so afflicted by the winter, he was a heap of summer, evoking a road mender or rural postman. Tucked up in the lengths of his ears, Hare carried with him the tension of all sounds. One ear toward the ground, listening to the cracking of the frost, while the other opened toward the horizon, collecting the blows of an axe, which resounded throughout the dead forest.
“Certainly, Oh Francis,” said Hare, “I can satisfy myself upon moss-covered bark. It has grown tender under the caress of the snow and has been made fragrant by these winter dawns. More than once I have satisfied my hunger during these calamitous days in which the brambles are but rose-colored crystals, when the nimble wagtail utters its shrill cry toward the worms, which its beak can no longer reach beneath the ice of the banks. I will graze upon these barks. For, Oh Francis, I do not want to pass away with these, your gentle followers who are dying, but rather I want to live here with you, nourished by the bitter fibre of the trees.”
Then, because the lands from which each one of them had come had been different, places each could only dwell alone, Hares companions chose not to leave, but to remain together, to die in this land which had been reduced by the winter.
One evening the faded doves fell like dead leaves from the branches on which they had been perched, and the wolf closed his eyes to life, his muzzle resting upon Francis’s sandals. For two days his neck had been so weak that it could no longer support his head. And his spine had become like a bramble, soiled and shivering in the wind. His master kissed his face.
Then the lamb, the dogs, the sparrowhawks, the owl, and the ewe surrendered their spirits. And finally the little spaniel, whom Hare had vainly tried to keep warm, also passed away, wagging her tail. And this brought such sorrow to Hare that he could not, until the following day, touch the bark of the oak tree.
And Francis prayed amidst this desolation. His forehead rested in his clenched hands, like a poet who, while suffering from an excess of sorrow, feels his heart once again escaping him.
Then he addressed Hare and his cleft lip.
“Oh Hare, I hear a voice which says to me that you must lead these (and Francis pointed to the corpses of the animals) to Eternal Bliss. Oh Hare, there is a paradise for beasts, but I know it not. No man has ever entered it. Oh Hare, you must guide these friends of ours, to whom God has given and has now taken away. You being more careful than the rest, it is to you with your prudence that I entrust them.”
These words of Francis’ rose upwards towards the clearing sky. Little by little the hard azure of winter had become limpid. And one could believe that, under this returning cheer, the charming spaniel might choose to again put right her supple silken ears.
“Oh my friends who have died,” spoke Francis, “are you truly dead, for I am the only witness? What proof might you give that you are not just sleeping? Is the fruit of the clematis asleep or dead when the wind no longer ruffles its light lashes?Perhaps, oh wolf, it is simply that there is no longer enough breath coming from on high to swell your flanks? Or for you doves, enough to make you expand like a sigh? And Ewe, might it cause your lamentations to, by their softness, increase the softness of the flooded pastures? And Owl, could this reawaken your sobbing, the plaint of a night in love? And you hawks, might you then rise from the ground? And dogs, your yapping might again mingle with the voices of the lakes? And Spaniel, might it not return to you your delectable mind, so that you might again think to press your cheek together with Hare’s?
Then, from atop a molehill Hare took a leap up into the azure from which he did not drop. And with ease, as if he were passing over a meadow of blue clovers, he took a second bound into the space of angels.
He had hardly completed this second leap when he noticed the small spaniel nearing him. And Hare merrily asked her:
“Had you not died?”
Frolicking towards him, she answered:
“What is this that you are asking me, for I do not understand? Today’s nap was peaceful and bright.”
And Hare noticed the other animals following him through the void. While Francis set out upon another heavenly pathway, he gestured with his hands towards the wolf, requesting that he have confidence in the worn old hare. The wolf, obedience and peace within his heart, felt faith come over him once more and took a long look at his master before continuing on with his friends, knowing that for the chosen there is divinity even in goodbyes.
They left the winter behind them. They were astonished, passing through these meadows, which had once been so unattainable and so far above their heads. But they were held up in the sky by their need to achieve paradise.
Up paths made by the seraphim, along trellised vineyards of light, through the Milky Way, where comets are like sheaves of grain, Hare led his companions. Aware of his prudence, Francis had entrusted his friends to Hare and had chosen Hare as guide. And had he not on several occasions, with his long ears, given to his master proof of this quality? For it is the root of all wisdom. On the day when Francis had asked Hare to follow him, had he not resisted until Francis had held out to him a handful of flowered grass? And when, for each one’s love for the other, his companions let themselves die, had he not continued to gnaw upon the bitter bark of the tree?
For this reason Hare believed his prudence would not fail him here in Heaven. If they lost their way, he would find the right road again. He would not be misled, would not collide with either the sun or the moon, and would know how to avoid those shooting stars which were as dangerous as the stones shot from a sling. He would find his way by reading the blue signposts indicating the kilometres they had travelled and bearing the names of the celestial hamlets.
The landscapes discovered here by Hare and his companions were charmed and joyful, made even more so by the fact that, unlike men, they had never speculated upon the beauties contained in the sky, for they could only look to their sides, not upwards. The latter was the exclusive right of man, the king of animals.
So it happened that Hare, with his short tail, the wolf, the ewe, her lamb, the birds, dogs and the spaniel discovered that the beauty of the sky was equal to that of the earth. And all except Hare, who had to occasionally concern himself with their direction, tasted unadulterated joy on their pilgrimage toward God. There in the once unobtainable firmament, seemingly so far above their heads, it was now the earth that seemed out of reach beneath their feet. And as they moved farther and farther from it, the Earth became their canopy, the blue of the ocean the sky, the clouds its foam, and the candles of the shops the stars scattered upon the expanse of the night.
Little by little they approached that land promised to them by Francis. Already they saw the clovers of the setting sun incarnate, and those luminous fruits of darkness from which they might make their food, growing larger and fuller, their hearts melting into the sweet juices of paradise.
The leaves and the tremendous flesh of this fruit infused their blood with an unknowable summery virtue; a joy that made their hearts beat more powerfully as they approached the beauties that were to be their future.
At last they came to the blessed realm of the beasts. The first paradise was that of the dogs.
For some time they had heard barking. Then, while looking at the trunk of a worm-eaten oak, they saw a mastiff sitting within a barrel as though it were his kennel. They understood from his dismissive and placid looks that he was not all there. For he was the dog of Diogenes, to whom God had given solitude within this barrel, hollowed out of that very same tree. He gave an indifferent look toward the approaching dogs with their spiked collars. Then, to their astonishment, he left his moss-covered kennel, his leash having become loose, he went to retie it with his mouth. As he returned to his den of wood he said:
“Here you must take your pleasure where you find it.”
And this was their impression. Hare and his companions saw dogs searching for imaginary lost travellers. These dogs went so far as to descend to the bottom of the deepest chasms in search of them, bringing bouillon, meat, and brandy contained within small casks suspended from their collars.
Others threw themselves into freezing lakes hoping to withdraw some shipwrecked man. But they were always disappointed. When they regained their footing on the shore they would stand shivering and stunned, yet satisfied by their pointless devotion. They were ready to dive in once more.
Others begged tenaciously for some old bone at the thresholds of deserted cottages along the roads, awaiting kicks, and all of this gave their eyes an inexpressibly adorable melancholy.
There was a grinder’s dog who joyfully turned the wheel of the grinding stone, his tongue hanging even though there was no knife to be sharpened. But his eyes still radiated with an unquestioning faith in duty fulfilled.And he would not stop, except to catch his breath before returning to his labour once more.
There was a labrit who, with this same faith, sought to herd a fold of sheep who strayed for eternity. He pursued them along the bank of a brook which shone on the edge of a grassy hill.
From this grassy hill and out from under a wood, a pack of hounds bore forth, having all day hunted the hinds and gazelles of their dreams. Their voices, which lingered among these ancient tracks, sounded like the fortunate bells of a flowery Easter morning.
It was not far from here that the dogs, including the spaniel, made their homes. But when the latter tried to bid Hare a tender farewell, she saw that her long-eared friend had run away upon hearing the hunting dogs.
So it was without Hare that the sparrowhawks, the owl, the doves, the wolf and the sheep continued flying or walking respectively. They understood well that he, a hare of little faith, that had not known how to die like them would, rather than be saved by God, prefer to save himself.
The second paradise was that of the birds, located within a hedged farmland where their songs streamed out over the leaves of the alders, making them tremble. And from these alders the songs ran out into a river which became so imbued with music that it played its part upon the rushes.
At a distance a hill stretched full of the springtime and of its shade. The softness of its sides was incomparable. It radiated the perfume of solitude; the aroma of nocturnal lilacs mingled with that which comes forth from the heart of black roses drinking in the hot, white sun.
Suddenly then, the song of the nightingales was heard at intervals, stretching out as if crystal stars had fallen and broken upon the waves. Only the song of the nightingale was heard. Over the entire expanse of the silent hill one heard only the nightingale. Night was only this sob of the nightingale.
Then the dawn rose, red in its nakedness among the choruses and modulated whistles of these birds, their wings heavy with their love and with the dew. In the green corn resided the quails, not yet calling.From the dimness of the fig trees the tomtits with their black heads produced a sound like that of pebbles being stirred up by the water. A green woodpecker, looking much like a handful of grass torn from the gilded meadow, a clover flower for a head, split open the blue skies with its cry. It flew toward the old apple trees with their inspired flowers.
The three sparrowhawks and the owl entered into these places with their nourished flowers, and not one robin, not one goldfinch and not one linnet seemed frightened by them. The birds of prey held their perches with an arrogant and sad air and kept their eyes fixed on the sun, occasionally beating their iron wings against their sharp and mottled chests
As for the owl, it sought out the shadows of the hill, hiding in some reclusive cave, happy there in shade and wisdom, listening to the plaint of the nightingale.
The most appealing of these shelters was that chosen by the doves. Here they sat among bitter olive trees, waving in the twilight. In this garden could be found those young girls that had been let to enter this paradise due to their animal-like grace, all the young girls who sighed like the honeysuckle and those young girls who cooed along with the crying doves. All types of doves were there, those from Venice, whose wings aired the troubles of the Doges wives. The doves of Iberia whose lips were the orange and tobacco colour of the fisherman’s lures. All the doves which dream were there. The dove that raised Beatrix towards heaven, the dove to which Dante gave a grain of corn, and that dove which disillusioned Quitteria heard in the night. Here was that dove which had sobbed upon Virginia’s shoulder during the night, under the shade of the coconut palm, as she tried in vain to calm the pleasant flames of her love. And the dove to which the teenager, oppressed by the waning of summer there in the orchards where the peaches ripen, entrusts impassioned messages so that it may carry them with it into the unknown.
And there were the doves of the old presbyteries buried beneath the roses. And those which Jocelyn’s incensed and fragrant hands nourished while thinking of Laurence. And the dove which is given to the dying young girl. And the dove which in certain countries is placed upon the burning face of the sick. And the blinded dove which moans sadly, attracting her passing sisters towards the hunter’s ambush. And that gentlest of doves which brings comfort to the old and forsaken poet in his attic.
The third paradise was that of the sheep.
It lay in a small emerald valley watered by brooks, its grass an amazing green bathed in sunny crystal. Nearby a lake the colour of peacock feathers and mother of pearl glistened blue like the mica, the breast of the hummingbird, and the wings of the butterfly. Having licked the purest of salt from golden grains of granite, the sheep dreamed their lengthy dreams, their tufts of thick wool overlapping like broad, snow-covered branches.
This landscape was so pure and of such dreamlike clarity that it bleached the lashes of the lambs, slipping through to their golden eyes. The atmosphere was so transparent that one seemed to be able to see clear to the bottom of its waters and up to its yellow-striped peaks of limestone. Flowers of white frost, of sky, and of blood were woven into the carpets of the beech groves and fur plantations. The breeze passing very close to them was rising up, lighter, more balsamic and more frozen.
Like a blue flood the mist accumulated about the precious cones of the trees, becoming intertwined with the silver lichen. Cascades hung from the rock’s teeth, giving off a facade of smoke. Suddenly the angelic flocks bleated toward God. And frantic bells cried toward the shade of the ferns, and the dark waters of the caves broke into the light.
One could see, sleeping among the wild bay trees, the fond ewe of the Gospel. It still bled, its legs resting under its nose. It had felt pain in those roads upon which it had travelled. But soon it would be fully revived by the acidulous sugar of the bilberries. It quivered, listening to its scattered companions.
On entering this paradise to stay, Francis’ friends the sheep saw Jean De La Fontain’s lamb amid the forget-me-nots, which were the mirror like colour of the waves. It no longer disputed with the wolf of the fables. As it drank, the water stayed undisturbed. The ivies had shaded this wild spring for two hundred years. They threw forth their bitterness and rolled onward amid the grass in broken waves, reflecting the snowy trembling of the lambs.
On the slopes of these happy valleys were those sheep kept by Cervantes’ heroes who, dying of their love for the same young girl, had deserted their cities to live pastoral lives. These sheep had the softest of voices, like hearts that secretly enjoy their suffering. They drank from the wild thyme the tears left by these rural poets, always fresh and burning, having fallen like dew from the chalices of their eyes.
Upon the horizon of this paradise a confused murmur rose like that of the ocean. It was the sobbing of broken flutes or clarinets, their calls echoed from within the abysses, the barking of restless dogs and the sound of a moss-covered stone falling into the void. It was like the swelling of the waterfalls above the crashing torrents. It was similar to the voices of people moving toward the Promised Land, toward those unnamed grapes and fiery ears of grain, all of this mingled with the braying of the pregnant donkey laden with heavy milk cans, the mantle of the herdsman, salt and cheese scaled like shale.
The fourth paradise, in its almost indescribable barrenness, was that of the wolves.
At the summit of an infertile mountain, in the desolation of the wind, beneath a penetrating fog, these wolves felt the sensual pleasure of martyrdom. They were sustained by their hunger. They experienced a bitter joy in feeling as though they had been forsaken, that never for more than an instant (and then thanks only to the greatest suffering!) had they been able to abdicate their lust for blood. They were outcasts, full of dreams never to be realized. It had been a long time since they had been able to approach the celestial lambs, their white lashes fluttering in the green light. And since none of these animals ever died, the wolves could no longer watch for the shepherds throwing their corpses into the laughter of the eternal torrent.
The wolves had resigned. Their pelts, hairless as the rock, were pitiable. A sort of miserable grandeur reigned in their strange sojourn. One might feel inspired to kiss the forehead of one of these poor carnivores, their destitution so tragic and grave, even at the risk of startling it in the act of slaying a lamb. The beauty of this paradise in which this friend of Francis’ took his seat was one of dereliction and despair without hope.
And beyond this region the heavens of the beasts stretched on to Infinity.
As for Hare, he had prudently taken flight upon sighting the celestial pack of hounds. As long as Francis had remained near him Hare had believed in Francis, but now, even in the abode of the exultant, he was overcome by feelings of distrust as natural to him as they are to a ploughman. And not finding his true paradise, not tasting perfect safety nor feeling any familiar danger against which he could struggle, Hare with his long ears became befuddled.
Ill at ease Hare wandered, unable to recognize where he was, unable to recognize even himself, seeking in vain that which had fled from him and that which he had fled from. But why? Wasn’t Heaven happiness? Was there any peace more peaceful? Where else could Hare have dreamt of a sleep more untroubled then on these beds of wool spread by the breeze beneath bushes flowering with stars?
But he could not sleep, for he missed fear. Sitting there in a ditch in heaven he no longer shivered from the once familiar feeling of moisture penetrating the whiteness of his short tail. The mosquitoes had withdrawn to the ponds of their own paradise. They no longer swarmed before his eyes, his ever-raised eyelids no longer filled with the harsh burn of summer. He longed regretfully for this fever. For Hare’s heart no longer beat with the same power as it had when, at the top of the moorland in the burning heather, a shot had scattered the earth like rain about him. Groomed by the smooth caress of this lawn, hair once again grew on the callous places upon his legs. And he began to lament the comforts of Heaven. Hare was like a gardener who, having become king, felt obliged to be fit with crimson sandals only to long regretfully for his old shoes, heavy with clay and heavy with poverty.
Francis, in his paradise, was aware of Hare’s anguish and it troubled his heart to know one of his old companions was not happy. The streets of the celestial hamlet where he dwelt seemed to Francis less calm, the shade of the evening less pleasant, the breath of the lilies less white. Less blessed was the gleam of the planer from within its stall. Less crisp the song of the clear water as it fell from the jug, cooling the flesh of the angels seated upon the coping of the well.
Thus Francis set out to find God who received him in his garden at the close of the day. God’s was both the most humble and the most beautiful of gardens. It was not known from what wonder its beauty came. Perhaps it was that the garden contained only love. Dark lilacs poured forth over walls notched by the ages. Its stones happily supporting mosses, smiling, their gold mouths drinking in the heart of the shade beneath the violets.
In diffused light (which was neither that of the dawn or the twilight, for it was softer than either) lying low at the centre of the garden’s bed a blue garlic bloomed. Mystery surrounded the blue sphere of the garlic’s inflorescence, motionless and collected upon its high stem. It looked as though it were dreaming. Of what? Perhaps the labours of its soul singing on a winter evening, in the pot where boils the soup of the disinherited. Oh divine destiny! Not far from hedges of boxwood mute words radiated from the lips of the lettuces, while a low light clung around the shadows of the sleeping watering cans. Their task was finished.
Trustful and serene, with neither pride nor humility, a sage plant propelled its pitiful perfume upwards toward God.
Francis sat down next to God, on a bench sheltered by an ash tree around which an ivy grew. And God said unto Francis:
“I know what brings you. It will never be said that there was anyone, be it maggot or hare, who was unable to find paradise here. Go to your fleet-footed friend and ask him what it is that he desires. And what he says to you, I will grant him. If he did not realize how to die and relinquish the world like the others, it is that undoubtedly, his heart is attached to my beloved earth. Because, Oh Francis, like this long-eared beast, I too have a profound love for the Earth. I love the Earth of men, of animals, of plants, of stones. Oh Francis, go and find Hare and tell him that I am his friend.”
And Francis set out for the paradise of beasts, where no child of man had set foot, save for young girls. There he joined Hare who had been anxiously wandering about. Upon the approach of his former master such joy came over Hare that he sat down, his eyes more confused than ever and his muzzle shaking as the result of an imperceivable tremor.
“Hello, my brother,” said Francis, “I felt the suffering of your heart and I have come here to better understand the reasons for your sadness. Have you eaten too many bitter seeds? Can you not find the peace of the white doves and the white lambs? Oh he who spreads the hay upon the fields for their renewal, what is it that you seek with such worry, here in this place where you need no longer worry, where you will never again feel the breath of the hounds upon your poor and travelled hide?”
“Oh my friend,” said Hare with his cleft lip, “For what do I seek but my God? As long as you were there for me on earth I felt peace. But, here in paradise I am lost, for I no longer have the benefit of your company. Oh divine brother to the animals, my soul is suffocating, for I can not find my God.”
“Do you think, then,” replied Francis, “that God abandons hares and that they alone in the world have no right to paradise?”
“No,” answered Hare, “I have given no thought to these things. I would have followed you. For I came to know you as well as I knew the hedges back home, where hung the warm snow like the wool of the lamb, which I used to insulate my nest. In vain I have searched these celestial meadows, looking for this God of which you still speak. But while my companions have discovered him immediately and have found their paradises, I have continued to wander. From the day we parted and from the moment I earned entry to the sky, my wild and puerile heart has beaten with nostalgia for the earth.”
“Oh Francis, oh my friend, oh you in whom I alone have faith, return me to the earth. I do not feel at home here. Return me to my furrows full of mud. Return me to the paths of clay. Return me to my native valley, where the horns of the hunters stir the mist. Give back to me the ruts in the road from which I have heard the packs of hounds with their hanging ears singing the Angelus. Return to me my fear. Return to me my fright. Return to me the emotions that I felt when suddenly a rifle’s shot, falling short, had swept beneath my bounds through the fragrant mint, or when among the bushes beneath the quince trees my nose met with the cold copper of a snare. Return me to the meadow where you discovered me. Return to me the dawn upon the waters from which the prudent fisherman withdraws his line, heavy with eels. Return to me the blue light of the moon and my shy and furtive love amid the wild sorrel, where I could no longer distinguish the pink tongue of my mate from the sweetbrier petals that had fallen upon the grass, heavy with dew. Give back to me my weakness, oh you, my dear heart. And go and tell God that I can no longer live here in his house.”
“Oh Hare,” answered Francis, “Oh my friend, gentle and suspicious like a peasant. Oh Hare of little faith. You blaspheme. If you do not know how to find your God it is only because in order to meet this God you would have had to die like your companions.”
“But if I die, what will I become?” exclaimed Hare.
And Francis said:
“If you die, you will become your paradise.”
Thus talking they arrived at the edge of the paradise of beasts. Here the paradise of men began. Hare tilted his head upwards to read a signpost made of blue cast iron. Upon it an arrow indicated the direction to be followed:
It was such a blisteringly hot day that the letters upon the placard seemed to quiver in the sullen summer light. In the distance the road was clouded with dust, as when Sister Anne was asked “My sister do you not see anything coming?” How splendid
this pale dryness, filled with the bitter fragrance of mint.
*From Charles Perrault’s Blue Beard
And Hare saw coming a horse and cart.
It was a miserable nag, dragging behind it a tank with benches, unable to move but more than a staggered sort of gallop. Each dash forward startling its disjointed carcass, shaking its collar, and scattering its earth-coloured mane, glistening and green like the beard of an old mariner. The animal mournfully raised its shoes, as though they had been replaced by paving stones, its hooves swollen like tumours…
Then a doubt, more powerful than all the doubts beset upon Hare hitherto, bore into his soul.
This doubt was a leaden grain, having just passed through the nape of his neck, behind his long ears, penetrating his brain. A veil of blood, more beautiful than the blazing autumn floated before Hare’s eyes, upon which fell the shadows of eternity. He cried out. The fingers of a hunter tightened about his throat, strangling him, smothering him. Formerly fluttering like the pale rose, tearful in the wind of the early hours when the hedges softly caress the lambs, Hare’s heart now slowed. For an instant Hare remained motionless in the fist of his murderer, emaciated and long like death itself. Then old Hare started. He clawed out for the ground in vain, but the man would not release him. And so Hare passed away drop by drop.
Hare’s fur bristled upon his back as it had in earlier times during summer when he had dwelt near his sister the quail and his brother the poppy. The argillaceous earth was similar to that which had once soaked his poor paws. The hills clothed in the brown of past September days, whose appearance he had once assumed, similar to Francis’ frock. The ruts in the road were similar to those from which he had heard the packs of hounds with their hanging ears, singing the Angelus. There were the arid rocks, loved so much by the wild thyme, and before his eyes, where now floated the azure mist of night there was a landscape akin to the blessed meadow where the heart of his mate had awaited him within the wild sorrels. Hare’s tears spilt forth like the fountain of the seraphs, near which the old eel fisherman sat repairing his lines. Hare resembled life, resembled death, resembled himself, resembled his paradise.